©1986 by Paul D. Ackerman http://www.creationism.org/ackerman/
6 - Is the Sun Shrinking?
. . . thou hast prepared the light and the sun.
What causes the sun to shine? Prior to the rise of Darwin's evolution theory, the great nineteenth-century scientist Hermann von Helmholtz proposed a simple and effective model— gravitational collapse. The only problem with the concept was that it would not allow anything approaching the vast amounts of time demanded by the theory of evolution. If the sun produced its energy by gravitational collapse, the sun could last no longer than a few million years, and for evolution to have even a ghost of a chance much more time is required.
Around the turn of the century, the famous scientist Lord Kelvin created difficulties for evolutionists by presenting a number of powerful arguments against the long ages needed by their theory. In a widely heralded debate with the famous evolutionist Thomas Huxley, Lord Kelvin tore the evolutionists' position to shreds with simple and straightforward physical arguments that the earth and solar system were not old enough for life to have arisen by Darwin's proposed evolutionary process. Among Lord Kelvin's arguments on the age issue was the time factor for the sun's survival based upon Helmholtz's accepted model of gravitational collapse. Lord Kelvin had the theory of evolution on the ropes and had seemingly dealt the knockout blow.
What happened? The discovery of atomic radiation changed the whole picture. Evolutionists suddenly took new courage as the phenomenon of atomic radiation seemed to provide the necessary answer to Kelvin's challenge. With regard to the question of why the sun shines, the gravitational-collapse model became unfashionable, and in the 1930s Hans Bethe introduced the currently accepted view that thermonuclear fusion in the sun's core is the source of its energy.
Flies in the Ointment
Although the nuclear-fusion theory of solar burning is widely accepted in scientific circles, it has one serious drawback. Unfortunately, a large-scale nuclear-fusion reaction in the sun's interior would give almost no indication of its existence, and so the concept is difficult to verify scientifically. As it turns out, however, there is one very expensive method of verification. Princeton astronomer John Bahcall, along with Raymond Davis of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, wrote a research report on this work in 1976.1
To "catch" neutrinos (particles released during certain nuclear reactions)
and verify the thermonuclear-fusion theory, a large cavity was dug deep
underground in a South Dakota gold mine. The necessary apparatus for detecting
neutrinos was then constructed. The importance of this research in terms
of providing necessary testing of the widely accepted general theory of
evolution cannot be overemphasized. As Bahcall and Davis explain:
One may well ask, why devote so much effort in trying to understand a backyard problem like the sun's thermonuclear furnace? . . . The theory of solar energy generation is ... important to the general understanding of stellar evolution. . . .
There is a way to directly and quantitatively test the theory of nuclear energy generation in stars like the sun. Of the particles released by the assumed thermonuclear reactions in the solar interior, only one has the ability to penetrate from the center of the sun to the surface and escape into space: the neutrino. Thus neutrinos offer us a unique possibility of "looking" into the solar interior. . . . the theory of stellar aging by thermonuclear burning is widely used in interpreting many kinds of astronomical information and is a necessary link in establishing such basic data as the ages of the stars. . . . Thus an experiment designed to capture neutrinos produced by solar thermonuclear reactions is a crucial one for the theory of stellar evolution. ... It is for . . . these reasons . . . that so much effort has been devoted to the solar neutrino problem [emphasis added].2
From a creationist point of view, the results of the neutrino-capture experiments are very exciting, for they indicate that the thermonuclear-fusion theory of solar radiation may be entirely wrong. The sun is not emitting the necessary neutrinos. In an Associated Press story of March 1980, Kevin McKean discusses the impact of the "case of the missing neutrinos":
The neutrino is a particle emitted during certain nuclear reactions, including several of those believed to power the sun. It travels at or near the speed of light, like an invisible ray, and can penetrate miles of very dense matter without striking anything. Trillions of neutrinos from the sun stream through our bodies every second. Because neutrinos can escape from deep within the sun, scientists realized they might be a good way of checking whether the reactions believed to power the sun are really happening. Chemist Ray Davis Jr., of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Brookhaven, N.Y., led a team that set up a neutrino detector nearly a mile underground at the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, S.D. In nearly a decade of operation the detector has found only one-third the expected number of neutrinos. . . . "It seems to me that we're not even at first base," Bahcall says. "We have just realized we have a ball game and all we know is somebody is out there throwing fastballs at us and we can't even see them."3
Again quoting from Bahcall and Davis:
For the past 15 years we have tried, in collaboration with many colleagues in astronomy, chemistry, and physics, to understand and test the theory of how the sun produces its radiant energy (observed on the earth as sunlight). All of us have been surprised by the results: there is a large, unexplained disagreement between observation and the supposedly well established theory. This discrepancy has led to a crisis in the theory of stellar evolution; many authors are openly questioning some of the basic principles and approximations in this supposedly dry (and solved) subject.4
Evidence from the Stars
Failure to find the predicted neutrinos was the most direct and telling of a number of serious flies in the ointment of the thermonuclear-fusion theory of solar burning. In a 1975 article, geo- and astrophysicist Harold Slusher explained two other difficulties.5
First, the chemical composition of stars should change as they proceed through their supposed thermonuclear life cycle. However, observational studies of what should be stars of vastly different ages show them all to have roughly the same chemical composition. This presents a real enigma for the evolutionary nuclear-process theory.
Second, and equally damaging, is the frequent occurrence of star clusters that are gravitationally bound and thus presumably originating at the same time, yet containing stars of vastly different ages on the thermonuclear-burn sequence. Some cluster observations are so mind boggling from an evolutionist point of view that even if there were not an abundance of other empirical evidences, these alone ought to rule out the vast-age concept. The most dramatic is a cluster of four stars in the Trapezium of the Orion nebula. These four stars are moving away from a common point at a high rate of speed. If the motion of these four stars is projected backward at their present speed, their paths lead to a common point of origin only about 10,000 years ago. Yet, according to the accepted scheme, the stars in the cluster are vastly older than 10,000 years. Slusher asks, "If the cluster cannot be old, how can the stars be old?" Indeed, this amazing cluster raises the question of whether the creation itself should be considered as older than 10,000 years.
A Temperature Dilemma
Among the other difficulties discovered prior to the conclusive neutrino results, one of the most important is a paradox between the expected nuclear-fusion temperature history of the sun and the temperature history of the earth, based on fossil evidence. If the sun is producing its energy by nuclear fusion on an evolutionist time scale, then a billion years ago it should have been fainter and cooler than it is now.6 Although the expected difference in solar energy output would be only 5 percent, that difference is more than enough to cause the earth to be solidly frozen in a crust of ice. The fossil evidence, however, indicates that the early history of the earth was tropical and warmer than it is now. To quote physicists Michael J. Newman of Cal Tech and Robert T. Rood of the University of Virginia, "The discrepancy.. . indicates that there is a serious problem with our understanding of the structure of the sun, or of our understanding of the earth's climate or both."7
With the completion of the solar-neutrino research program, and in light of these earlier observed difficulties, one is left with the conclusion, in spite of evolutionary dogma to the contrary, that the available data indicate that the sun does not produce its energy by thermonuclear fusion and must not be very old. This finding reinstates gravitational collapse as a viable model for generating the sun's energy and rules out the possibility of the vast ages hoped for by proponents of Darwin's theory. With this in mind, a recent debate within the ranks of solar astronomers becomes quite intriguing, as we shall see next.
Is the Sun Shrinking?
Major newspapers across the country bannered this headline: "The Sun Is Shrinking." The March 1980 Associated Press news story by Kevin McKean reported the results of research studies by solar specialist Jack Eddy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the National Center for Atmospheric Research and mathematician Aram Boornazian.8 Through examination of records kept by the British Royal Observatory since 1750, Eddy and Boornazian concluded that the sun appears to be shrinking at a rate of about one-tenth of a percent per century.9
One characteristic common to all people is the tendency to notice and accept information that supports their own beliefs, values, biases, and so on. This is equally true of creationists and evolutionists. With this fact in mind, it is easy to imagine—given the considerations of the gravitational-collapse model of solar energy generation and results of the solar-neutrino experiments discussed above—how quickly recent-creationists noticed and grabbed hold of the Eddy and Boornazian findings.
The creationist physicist Russell Akridge, for example, published an article shortly after the disclosure of the Eddy and Boornazian findings reporting calculations indicating that the earth could hardly be over a few thousand years old if the sun were shrinking at the reported rate.10 Akridge also performed calculations showing that the suspected rate of solar shrinkage reported by Eddy and Boornazian would be more than enough to supply the 4 X 1026 watts of power actually produced by the sun.
Of course, just as recent-creationists were delighted by the possibility of another piece of evidence in support of their position and all too willing to accept it as verified fact, so evolutionists were extremely dubious and critical of Eddy and Boornazian's report. As one evolutionist critic put it, "This rate can clearly not be constant; if it were, the sun would shrink to a point in 100,000 years and would have been twice its present diameter 100,000 years ago."11 (Emphasis was added.) Of course, if evolutionary theory is correct, such changes in the sun over a time span of only 100,000 years are impossible.
Spurred by grave doubts in the possibility of such a high rate of shrinkage as well as by normal scientific curiosity, evolutionist experts in this area of research sought to check Eddy and Boornazian's calculations with other observational means. Irwin I. Shapiro of M.I.T., for example, examined observational records (dating from 1736) of the time taken for Mercury to pass in front of the sun.12 The Mercury-transit data showed no evidence of a decrease in the solar diameter and so raised doubts at least in regard to the rapid rate of shrinkage indicated by the Royal Observatory data.
Later, a group of scientists led by David W. Dunham of the International Occultation Timing Association, Silver Spring, Maryland, examined data gathered from 1715, 1976, and 1979 on the size of the area of totality during solar eclipses.13 In contrast to the Mercury-transit data examined by Shapiro, the solar-eclipse data examined by the Dunham group did show evidence of a small amount of shrinkage between 1715 and 1979- However, it was also found that the apparent amount of decrease in the sun's diameter was only about one-seventh of that reported by Eddy and Boornazian. More recently, J. H. Parkinson, of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, reviewed the range of solar-eclipse and mercury-transit data and concluded that "there is no evidence for any secular change in the solar diameter."14
Is the sun truly shrinking? The answer is that at present we do not know. The data that have been gathered from a variety of different kinds of observations, including solar eclipses and transits of the planet Mercury as well as the optical evaluations utilized by Jack Eddy and Aram Boornazian, are subject to many known and unknown sources of error. Scientists engaged in this research are often operating near the limit of discernible effects in terms of the capability of our scientific instruments. It has been argued that this is especially true of the type of measurements used by Eddy and Boornazian to arrive at the original conclusion that the sun is shrinking.15 Therefore, many subjective and judgmental factors, including one's bias on the issue of evolution vs. creation, are involved in trying to answer the question.
One of the biggest problems in getting reliable, long-term data on the solar diameter is the possibility that observations gathered over many years may be subject to errors resulting from unknown changes in factors thought to be constant on the basis of the evolutionists' assumption that the cosmos is billions of years old. If the recent-creationists are correct in their analysis of the age of creation, many factors affecting solar-disk size estimates may be changing at a rate sufficient to invalidate those estimates.
The answer to the question of whether the sun is shrinking will have
to await further research. Given the evidence from a number of sources
indicating that nuclear fusion cannot be the mechanism by which the sun
generates its power—leaving gravitational collapse as perhaps the only
viable theory—it is a good bet that recent-creationists will continue to
look for clear evidence that the sun is, indeed, shrinking.
– UPDATE 2002 - Added for the Web Version –
As forecast in 1986, the issues raised in this chapter have continued to be the focus of much scientific research. Relevant developments from a creationist perspective are reported in a 1996 article, Evidences for a Young Sun, by Keith Davies. Davies summarizes three lines of scientific evidence pointing to a young sun. Access this article at: http://www.creation.on.ca/cdp/articles/shrsun.html
More recently, scientists associated with the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada report that the long-sought missing neutrinos, discussed at the beginning of this chapter, have now been found. An article on the Sudbury findings was published in the June 19, 2001 New York Times and may be accessed at: http://dept.physics.upenn.edu/~geneb/phys362/press/19NEUT.html
The implications of this development for estimates of the sun's age
and operating mechanism will have to await further analysis by scientists
who are open to the possibility that the data points to a young sun.
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